Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Google Hangouts with Experts

Recently I have been trying to connect my classrooms more with other students as well as experts, through both Google Hangouts and Skype. I did this in my old school, by connecting with another school, in a different country, and having students in both schools compete on an interactive quiz using Kahoots and we also took part in a live session with the author Robert Muchamore through a Google Hangout!

Recently I have connected my Game 9 Game Design class (ICT and Robotics Option) with experts in the field. This is because they can give them a much more meaningful and relevant answers to questions like 'what is it like to work in game design' and "how has coding helped you in your tech career." I am sure the students also find it a lot more interesting to speak to someone working in an interesting job...instead of just talking to me, the teacher they see every day!

Usually when I have these video calls with experts my students brainstorm questions the lesson before, which we send to the person in advance. We connect through Google Hangouts or Skype and I introduce the experts, who then talk about themselves. We then take questions from the audience - but I usually have the pre-written questions printed out, so that there is no gap in conversation if the students are being shy. We were lucky enough to connect with people who work at both TellTale Games and GlassLabGames. Students asked questions about their careers, what it is like working in the tech field, why coding is important, what games they enjoyed playing and more.

Grade 9 talk with Game Designer Emily Garrison from TellTale Games. 
She is currently the lead game designer on Michonne, The Walking Dead.

Grade 9 and 10 having a Google Hangout with staff from Glass Lab Games during Computer Science Week. Jerry Fu works on Game Development, and has previously worked on Plants Vs Zombies at Pop Cap Games. Evan Rushton, former teacher, works on the education side.

This was incredibly easy to organize and I was so happy with how flexible, approachable and easy to work with all the experts were. If anything, my business was the only thing which caused delays! Using Google Hangouts was also super easy too and we connected a hangout to our Google Calendar Events. You can even add the questions as an attachment!

This was an extremely rewarding experience, which I could not replicate myself. I am extremely grateful for these experts who offered their time and thoughts to my students. I encourage other teachers and librarians to reach out to experts to do the same thing. If anyone wants any help or advice, please contact me.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Google Hacks

I delivered some training sessions at my school including a Google Hacks workshop. During this workshop I helped people hack Google Forms and Google Slides, and also taught them how to take control of their Gmail inbox (mine is now pretty much empty for the first time ever! Also I have color coded labels and filters and all sorts of magic making it work well for me).

Here's the presentation, Google Hacks:

On every slide it gives step by step directions for completing the different hacks. I also have linked video tutorials for every tip too.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Voice Typing in Google Docs

Super easy to use! Great for taking notes quickly...and also helps people, like me, to practise speaking slowly and not mumbling! It's not 100% accurate yet, but it will get better!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Gamify Your Life (ATLs)

Improve your approaches to learning with gamification tools

Gamification is the act of adding game playing elements, like competition with others, rules, point scoring, leveling up, to a non-game related task. There are loads of great tools which educators use already which do this. For example when a student works through Duolingo they achieve badges for getting to certain levels and also they earn points for achieving certain streaks, (playing for X days in a row). Students who use Boomwriter in class will also find that when they earn more points, and can customize their 'Boomer' (their avatar). For people who have FitBit, you will have noticed that you can also earn badges through this, for things like walking a certain distance in one day or for taking a certain amount of steps.

Duolingo achievements and Boomwriter's Boomer

FitBig Badges

Recently I have been thinking about the IB's Approaches to Learning,  a set of skills created to support students to become good learners. The ATLs are broken down into five main categories, then split into smaller clusters, then individual, skill specific strands. Skills for our students to 'learn how to learn'. These ATLs should be developed throughout the course and provide a common language to help our students to learn in any subject. I realized that I don't have perfect approaches to learning, and need to improve some of my skills, including my self-management skills, (usually related to prioritizing and procrastination!) The gamification tools that follow can help me, my students and other teachers to develop their self-management skills.

The main ATL skill categories

Each category has a huge range of small skills. 
Here are some of the skills I believe you can learn through some of the apps below.


Screenshots from my EpicWin. 

Epic Win is a fantastic tool to gamify any element of your life. Once you download the app you pick an avatar and then set yourself tasks. When you set your tasks you can allocate points to them, have them repeat and also decide which skill they help you improve. Once you have finished a task, you hold your finger down on the points next to the task and an animation appears which literally battles the task! It then dissappears and the points are added to your characters skill set. The more points you have, the more cool things, Loot, it unlocks, as well as props and costumes for your avatar. Your character also levels up as you achieve more points. You can add any tasks you want, so they could be 'write reports' or 'cover Mr Sahib's class' or you could set yourself reminders that repeat like 'pop into another teachers class for five minutes' or 'empty inbox'. You can of course set yourself tasks for anything, so could include things to do with fitness or chores in the house. Students can set themselves This is a great app for both students and teachers. 

Forest/Stay Focussed

Screenshots from the opening of Forest, Stay Focussed.

Forest, Stay Focussed is a tool available both as an App and also through Chrome (as an extension).
It is a very simple, but effective tool, (if you buy into it...or like plants). The app basically helps you to stay focussed when doing something not on the phone, for example: I mark on my computer at home, but then get distracted and end up checking messages on my phone constantly. You open the app, select how much time you want to stay on task, and then a seed is planted. During that time the plant grows into a lovely tree, which you can add to your daily forest. However, if you exist out of the app, the tree dies!

There is also a fantastic Chrome Extension acts in a similar way, but your tree dies if you visit any of the blacklist website. You can add as many websites as you want to this list. If you have a student who can't help themselves look up sports news or check in on a social network, then this might be a great tool for them!

SuperBetter helps students develop emotional and social skills too, 
which covers a couple more ATL strands!

When you first log into SuperBetter it asks you what skill you would like to improve or which problem you would like to tackle. This includes managing stress, depression, losing weight and more. Once you have chosen this there are a range of tasks already programmed in. You can always delete, change or add your own tasks, but by choosing that initial setting the app will be generated with lots of resources to suit your needs. Not only do you have tasks, but there are also strategies and lots of useful tips. You unlock points and increase levels by completing different tasks, including tackling Bad Guys, (big obstacles to overcome, like being a self critic),  completing Quests, (these help you level up) or doing small tasks, called Power-Ups.
This is a really lovely app and perfect for staff who are struggling with a heavy workload or finding their working environment stressful. Equally it can support students who are in the middle of writing their Extended Essay, Personal Project or revising for exams. It is also a perfect tool for any students with emotional and social difficulties.  This is the perfect Self-Care tool.
Lastly, this is also available on the browser...and it's even more beautiful there:

Enjoy these tools - let me know if you use them or share them with other teachers or students.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

DMAIL: The email will self-destruct in 5...4...3...2...1

There's a great new Chrome extension called Dmail, which allows you to set an expiration date on emails. I believe this was probably started so that you could email sensitive material, like bank details, with a little less fear, but I can see some great ways of using this in schools too!
When you add the extension you have the option to have the email destroy itself in one hour, one day or one week. The email will not disappear from the recipients inbox (how great would that be), but instead turns into a scrambled up jumble of letters!

Firstly you could send confidential information, which you don't want there to be an email trial for, like information about an incident or confidential information about a student.

You might also want to use it for 'your snooze you lose' type emails. For example, asking if anyone is currently free or sending out a cake alert email!

You may also want to send students emails that they don't necessarily need to have access to after the lesson.


Saturday, 3 October 2015

Circuluar Writing With Google Docs

A teacher came into see me the period before a lesson, asking if I had a tool for circular writing. She wanted everyone to write an opening chapter, then another student to write the second chapter, another the third and so on. Although I could not think of a tool dedicated to do this, we realized that Google Docs was an easy solution!

We started by making a Google Drive Folder, which was accessible by anyone at our school, who has the link. We then created 18 documents, as we had 18 students, and labelled them by number.

We also decided that tasking a student to write the opening chapter would be the most difficult part, so decided to use some writing prompts. If we had more time to plan, we may have written these ourselves, but, as we are short for time, we used some pre-written prompts. I use Pinterest a lot, and already had several folders full of resources to help this, (general writing prompts, sci-fi writing prompts, hero story prompts and dystopian prompts). I chose a mixture of prompts, which all included some text. I'd like to experiment and have some with just images soon too.

Some examples of the prompts used:

We started by having students pull a number out of a bowl, this was the first document they worked on. It also meant that they didn't write the following chapter to the person sitting next to them. We used for a timer and gave students 5 minutes to write their opening chapter. They then closed their document and opened the next number document. They were then given two minutes to read the chapter, then five minutes to write the next.

Students seemed to really enjoy this activity and they wrote a huge amount! One student was pulled out of the lesson to speak with our principal, so I took over his laptop and got to have the student experience myself and it was great. They came up with very creative plot twists, used fantastic language and responded well to their peers previous chapters.

This is a super easy thing to do in the classroom and I recommend everyone giving it a go!  I am definitely going to collaborate with that English teacher again, as this was such a cool idea and I will share it with our other teachers, including the French, German, Spanish and ESOL teams.


BoomWriter is an incredible tool for story writing.

At a teacher you can pick form one of the main StoryStarts, which are fantastic opening chapters of books,t hat are designed to hook you in. You can even search through the available chapters by level and genre (so it can fit perfectly when you are doing a certain unit, like a sci-fi unit). You can also write your own opening chapters, which is something we did for the ESOL class. Although the only opening chapters available are English, you can obviously upload your own in any language.

After students read the first chapter, usually as a group and with a class discussion, each student writes their own second chapter. Teachers can add guiding notes, for example 'use the vocabulary list from class' and they can review each student's second chapter, either approving it, or giving it feedback for improving it. Once everyone has written their chapter, you host a voting session! Here students get the chance to read four of their peers chapters, (though they don't know who authored what they are reading) and they also get a chance to vote. It is very clever and makes sure all chapters are read an equal number and that no one reads there own. Once you close voting, the chapter which receives the most votes becomes the chapter two for the book!

With BoomWriter you are able to select how many chapters you want total, how many days you want them to write and vote and you can add in guiding notes to support the students. You can do it so that all chapters get approved, and you just give feedback to the winning chapters, or you can go through each draft and give them feedback. It just depends how much time you want to spend on it. You can easily use it for a summative assessment, grading each chapter, or you can have a hands off approach and just use it to foster the love of writing.

When the book is complete you get given a link and can order physical copies, (your first book is free), you can also pass this on to parents to buy! Also throughout the writing process students get given 'Boomer Bucks' when they write and vote, which they can use to customize their 'Boomer'.

The students we have used this with love it, and put a huge amount of time and effort into their chapters, because they know their peers will read them and because they want to have a chapter in the final, published book. You could even buy a copy of each book for the classroom and for the school library. I have been popping into the English classes that I set this up in, to support the teachers, and when the students see me they get really excited because they know it is BoomWriter Day!

BoomWriter set up is easy for both students and staff, and I am excited to see more and more classes using it at my school. I can not recommend BoomWriter enough, and seeing how much joy it gives the students is wonderful. I am very excited to start using this with older students, to see if they respond in the same way.

Over the last few weeks I have introduced BoomWriter to our Grade 6 English classes and on Grade 7/8 ESOL class.